How To Charge Your Gadgets During A Blackout

The electricity grid seems like an infallible force, and it’s really wonderfully reliable -- until for whatever reason it lets you down. When the lights go out for more than 24 hours, a healthy charge might be your only way to contact the world outside the darkness.

A blackout doesn’t mean there is no energy left out in the world. You just need to know where to look -- and you need to have the right tools to extract it.

Your battery-powered electronics come in two varieties: smartphones, tablets and MiFi, which will charge via USB bus. Your laptop, on the other hand, requires a the equivalent of a 240V wall socket to charge. We’re worried about the former more than the latter.

Energy You Planned For in Advance

You’re a genius! You know that the energy pouring out of sockets won’t always be there.

Gas generator

If you’ve got a generator, you don’t really have a blackout. If you took this step, you don’t need to read any further. Just make sure you don’t zap yourself with the damn thing.

Portable USB battery pack

A much more practical and affordable option is a rechargeable USB battery pack. The $US100 Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo’s 6000mAh battery will fully charge a dead iPhone 5 four times.

Energy Stored in Other Places

There’s battery power in the world -- go get it.

Use your car

Assuming you have keys to a car with fuel in it, you can charge your phone endlessly using a regular old car charger that plugs into the 12V cigarette lighter slot. For $US20, you can can turn that plug into a dual USB port.

Plug directly into a car battery under the bonnet If you don’t have keys (or gas), but you’re crafty enough to get under the bonnet of a car, you can gank energy directly from the terminals on a car’s battery. For $US5, this jumper cable-like tool gives you a 12V battery adaptor like the one inside your car. For $US37 this all-in-one battery inverter will convert the 12V battery into a 120V AC socket. Just be warned, when your car’s not running, the alternator isn’t charging the battery, so this is a temporary solution.

Steal power from emergency lighting

This two-outlet lamp socket is genius. No matter how intense the blackout, somewhere out in the world, there will be battery-powered emergency lights running. Find a running light, and you’ve got an outlet. For $US8, it’s not a bad emergency last resort to have in your back pocket.

Capturing Energy

There’s no magic to this at all. It’s simple thermodynamics: Energy cannot be created from nothing. The trick is converting all the untapped energy into a world into a charge for your phone.

Hand-powered charger

Hand-crank chargers turn your mechanical energy into power. The super-slim Pocket Socket weighs just 397g for one minute of cranking, you get roughly one minute of talk time. At $US60 it’s not your cheapest option, but it’s the only one guaranteed to work, rain or shine.

Bike Charger

If the weather is not too crappy outside to ride a bike, the $US80 SpinPower S1 kit will charge your phone without wearing you out so much.

Small solar battery After the storm, when the sun comes out, a small solar mobile battery pack will brighten up your USB gadgets for $US50.

Burn wood for energy

Designed for fancy campers who can’t live without a USB charge in nature, the $US130 BioLite CampStove could be your lifeline in a blackout. In addition to providing an efficient cooking surface, the wood-burning stove converts heat to electricity, which feeds out to a USB port. As long as you’ve got wood, you’ve got a charge.

Image: AP



    The light bulb thing is a great idea... except that emergency lights are generally fluros or LED... still - great idea

      Yeah cause emergency lights are generally in businesses or public places it's always good to disconnect emergency lighting isn't it. "oh no there's a fire, wheres the exit its all dark I can't find the stairs, but at least my phones charged"

        You can find the stairs by using your phone as a torch!

        true enough except that the fitting in question is a "pass through" design.
        Meaning, unscrew the light bulb, screw in the adaptor and screw the light bulb back into the end of said adaptor.
        Light still works. Save your phones battery power for communications. :)

        The bigger issue here in Oz is that, as camel_racer says, most emergency lighting (the ones that are most likely to still be operational) are usually flouro and run on batteries themselves anyway. Because..well.. the power's out.

          it's quite a no no and an offense to tamper with emergency lighting

    That lamp socket with an outlet is too cool never seen something like that before. My first thought was going to by dynamo hand crank power source its going to be available no matter what the rest are going to be a maybe.

    I did see a pic floating around of someone who had power offering up a heap of power boards with a sign saying 'we have power please charge your phone' its that thing we need more of these days.

    Having gone through the ordeal of Yasi and Blackout for over 2 days, these ideas are entirely useless if there is no service, what is the point of draining all your reserve power to fuel a phone that will not work while the towers are not.

    This is a good time to actually spend time away from the gadgets and with family. Later when you have to charge because your area is without power while others are up, you can visit fast food joints like McDonalds that have free WiFi (Internet). You might have to search for places that have plug points, I was surprised that some McDonalds did not have plug points handy, theirs were on the ceiling.

    the two outlet lamp socket is a neat idea.
    We'd need a bayonet version for here in Oz though. Or probably one of each as we do seem to be getting more and more light fittings that use an Edison (screw type) connector.

    Those portable car jump starter units are good as emergency power backup too.
    Especially if you also have an inverter to run from it.

    I don't want to be one of those guys but, "USB Bus" (Universal Serial Bus Bus?)

    I was going to say 12v to 240v inverter but more on the lines of $50 ish inverter and a 4 way power board. If you happen to be driving anywere take your gadgets along for the ride. Not always practical to lug valuable stuff around but if you heading to a friends, alternative accommodation or if you lock them in your boot you could always take them out at your destination. $50 plus a $2.50 power board is cheaper than buying separate 12volt chargers for all your devices as you already have the ones that came with the device.

    Wondering if you could steal some electricity from the copper network from you telephone lines. I know its not much, but every bit helps Unless everyone has optical fibre these days (I havent had a home phone line since 2006)

      Assuming the exhancge or whatever still has power or backup power I'd assume this would be a go I think it's about 40v DC give it take

    I have a 12v battery that is charged with a small solar panel at home, I use it to charge my phones all the time. It was for a project a few years ago, and is still working fine.

      Wow I thought I was the only one that does this.

      Last edited 03/11/12 10:52 am

    I got a solar charger from ThinkGeek several years back which I take with me when I go camping and it's never failed me. Has attachments for a wide variety of phones/devices and is, itself, about the size of a phone. It does take several hours to charge a phone but the sun's not going anywhere for millions of years so it's a fairly good bet. Less effort/energy expended than with a hand crank too.

    I didn't really mind going without power after the quake. It was plumbing I missed. Save your money on charging your gadgets and get a camping toilet.

      Better yet, buy a camping toilet and develop a way to use said excrement to fuel a power generator.

    "When the lights go out for more than 24 hours, a healthy charge might be your only way to contact the world outside the darkness."
    Landlines work too (well, till the NBN gets here anyway).

    The author or editors really should remove that suggestion about using the power from the emergency lighting as it would appear to be illegal here and even if it isn't illegal in the USA, it is a very dangerous and selfish suggestion. The emergency lighting is there for a good reason and it is not for the charging of a mobile phone.

    As for the other suggestions, well that BioLite is an expensive piece of crap. For one thing many of the statements on their web site are false and misleading. If it was an Australian web site/company they would be in trouble with the ACCC. Even under good conditions when it worked properly, the output is only an average of 2.4W, so you phone is not going to charge quickly.

Join the discussion!